Actual Play – Burning Chaos (5/20/2009)

GM: Sean Nittner
System: Burning Wheel

We started off late tonight, about an hour late on account of me wanting all the players to be there. So, we passed the time playing Pandemic and watching the world descend into a plague land of disease.

When everyone was there I introduced my three warm ups, which were pretty quick (just over 15 minutes total).

The tale of Woe.

I asked the players to pick one of the traitors (Jaina or Brighton) and tell me their sad story, one sentence at a time. The decided that Brighton was the more “disposable” of the two and went for him. My hopes were that in creating his story he would become more real to the players. It sort of worked. It turns out that as a boy Brighton watched as his father was killed and received a letter from him instructing him to become king of all the Eastern Kingdoms. He grew up hungry for power but also resentful of the sniveling boy Arthas who was loved by all of the kingdoms. He grew to hate Arthas, for the seat he would one day hold, for the loving father he still had and for the beautiful Jaina who laid by his side. We also found out that he’s astonishingly opened minded when it comes to races and respects orks just as much as he does humans. Perhaps he is even more at home with them. Interesting, but a little cliché.

The epic journey. How did the heroes come here.

I asked the table to pick a character who’s epic story we would tell. We used the format of each player (except the one that actually played the character) would give one sentence that the owner of the character would have to incorporate into an epic journey. Colin, the sergeant of the scouts was elected and we gave him these sentences.

  1. The refugees from the village attacked by trolls ran screaming in terror through the night.
  2. Despite the howling winds his black arrow flew true and cut the rope.
  3. To see his face you could tell the boy was no more than 12 years old.
  4. As the Greench fell red blood seeped through the snow.

From that Colin told a story about fleeing from trolls, but seeing one of them grab a boy, no more than 12, and sink his teeth into him, an image he would never forget. Years later, now trained as a soldier, he snuck into a Troll encampment and despite the raging winds his arrow flew true and cut the rope from which an innocent woman hung. As he fled her from captivity he was visited by a man who appeared out of nowhere. Then man told him his destiny was not in Arathi, but in the frozen mountains of Alterac where another woman would need to be rescued.

Scene requests

I asked the players if there were any scenes they wanted to see in tonight’s game. This wasn’t so much a warm up exercise as it was a gauge of what people wanted to do. I had two scenes, and Colin added a third.

  1. The sorceress duel between Luke and Jaina
  2. A duel of wits between Genn and Luke over the fate of Arthas’ army.
  3. Colin wanted to meet Jaina and realize she was the woman he must protect.

Opening scene. The Sorceress duel.

The brown book has rules of using sorcery in range and cover conflicts so I figured that would be a good way to manage a duel, especially one that involved Jaina trying to run away. As usual with range and cover, I started off a little disoriented (even though I had been reading them just before the game started). I think the problem is the scripting sheets don’t explain it very well. I’m tempted to make another sheet on my own that fleshes out all the rules for positioning and actions you can take. I fumbled a few things, rolled like crap, and generally felt frustrated with the pace of the combat. We did have some good sorcery and counter sorcery, but the end was strange. As Jaina fled, Luke gave his last bit of energy to give her courage, ostensibly allowing her to see reason through fear. Chasing her across a battlefield strew the artifacts of war, he collapsed into a heap, exhausted from his own efforts.

Brighton’s Camp.

Jordan enter the camp with the dwarves who were still carrying on about their lore. The asked him where to find Genn Blackstone that they might put him to trial as an Oath Breaker. Jordan questioned what the punishment would be and when told exile, he argued that execution was more humane. The dwarves, affronted again by his lack of understanding of their traditions (and the importance of traditions) started arguing… very LOUDLY (thanks stenorious debate). This had the interesting that Jordan lost the debate but the entire camp was warned that Genn would be on trial.

Freeing the peasants

Colin, in his effort to free the peasants of Spruce Hill sought out their leader, however not being someone familiar with navigating social structures, he sought out a hero of the people, Jordan. Who just happened to be losing a very LOUD argument. As the dwarf Sigrun talked very loudly at Jordan, the two used his megaphonic voice to conceal their private discussion of freeing the villagers that had been conscripted.

Eventually Sigrum allowed Jordan to lose the debate, with the condition that he still needed more education in the dwarven ways and would attend the trial in Dwarven garb, with stones to match his age.

Follow their leader

Excused from their argument, Jordan found a meek peasant who had heard of Jordan’s heroism but was terrified of showing him any favor for fear of earning the soldier’s wrath. The boy agreed to take someone less conspicuous (i.e. not freaking glowing with a cold light, i.e. Colin) to the leader of the Spruce Hill peasants.

The Plan

Colin met with Jotham, a butcher and the man that the rest of the Spruce Hill peasants looked up to. Jotham (thanks to the successful circles roll) was amenable to Colins plan, and while not the village head, he believed that he could round up most of his people during the evening meal. Colin would have to gather the serving women however as they would be busy during that time. He agreed and was successful (almost). The roll was tied, which I opted to rule that Colin thought he got all of the women free, but one was left behind. Alas, a lady he’ll have to save!

The trial

Jordan was given “ceremonial stones”, painful contraption of wooden slats tied together covered by heavy stones which hung from his shoulders. The dwarves had similar but more refined garb including worn stone beads. They explained that the age of the stone beads was an indicator of the dwarves age, the smaller the bead, the more refined it was, and the older the dwarf. Jordan, being a young one, of course was given mighty stones. This was a practical joke, which apparently was noticed by everyone in the camp but Jordan (thanks to a failed wise test)

Our story ending with Captain Genn Blackstone being summoned forth by to stand trial. He presented himself, forged documents in hand to the court. Then Sigrun Steeltoe was summoned… and summoned again… and summoned a third time. The dwarf however did not appear. As the crowd became restless, Genn noticed black orbs reflecting the torchlight and barely caught the silhouette as Gorund the ork disappeared into the night. Meanwhile Brighton sat with smug satisfaction as he watched the court processions descend into chaos. If there is no persecutor, no guild can be found. Or at least Brighton believes.

Epilogue

Luke woke in a cave which reeked of strange alien smells. As he saw hunk of meat cooking on a spit, there was a short flare as something caught fire, and an archer’s bracer fell from the “meat” into the fire below. As he would speak Jaina placed a soft finger on his lips “Do not speak, you are safe here”.

What rocked

The end created a few “oh crap” responses, which are always fun. I’m curious to see if the trial is continued with a proxy, if Sigrun (or parts thereof is found). I’m looking forward to sending Colin back into to the camp to rescue the one remaining villager, or to decide she isn’t work risking the mission for. Luke will have fun in the orc cave.

The warm up exercises went off okay. I felt like they got us in the mood to play the game and helped us connect with some of the characters.

We had a slow start but it seemed like once the sorceress duel was over, the game picked up. Actions were resolved in a roll and moved quickly.

I got the sense in Brighton’s camp like a lot of different stuff was going on, but the players could all interact with each other as needed. That is really what I want to see. Everyone perusing their agendas and intersecting with each other in interesting ways.

What could have been improved

KublaCon and Good Omens Con were really on my brain. A lot. It was hard to get my head in the game for Burning Wheel.

The game started an hour late. This left us two hours to burn. That was really frustrating for me.

Scripting, outside of Duel of Wits, just isn’t very fun for me. It takes too long, feels too… well scripted… and usually lacks horribly in interesting narrative because too much of our attention is focused on understanding the rules. The Range and Cover duel was real let down for me. Slow, mechanical and cumbersome. I thought about it this time, but next time I’m going to use the MouseGuard conflict system and see how it works. Magical duels will be Sorcery and Aura Reading with starting disposition of Forte rolled + Will base. Man, wish I had done that instead.

I forgot to do the belief review at the beginning of the game. This hurt it several ways. First it meant that nobody updated their beliefs to be more current. Second I didn’t feel like the players were thinking about the beliefs as few were driven towards. Third, I didn’t have them fresh in my head so I wasn’t pushing on them very hard.

Jordan’s player spent a good portion of the night trying to get a perception test, in order to raise his perception and consequently reflexes. I understand wanting to be more effective in combat, but if felt like every action was motivated by the goal of getting a perception test. I tried to be fair about it and meter out tests as appropriate, but it felt like the story was secondary to getting a mechanical advancement. There were some other really great scenes with him defending the peasants, but all the scenes with the dwarves just felt like an opportunity to make tests. I really feel like I failed to engage the player with thing that interests him. I need to encourage people to make their beliefs happen and make room for it in the game.

We didn’t get to a lot of the scenes we asked for. I need to be more aggressive about framing scenes to jump to the action and encouraging the players to just go for what they want. Jordan for instance wanted to be without his hammer, have to blacken his armor in a fire and punch someone. I really should have said “Cool, why don’t you make some kind of test (like as soldier-wise) to find reason to be offended with someone. If you succeed everyone understands and agrees with your actions, if you fail, they drag you off him and chastise you. Either way your mailed fist is black.” Next time I’m definitely going to open with “The dwarves are in a panic, if you ever wanted to impress them and get them to make your armor black, here is your chance.”